Visiting Kota Bharu in Kelantan

Visiting Kota Bharu in Kelantan after four years ago brought back some minor memories of life on the East Coast of Malaysia. The last time I remember, Kota Bharu town was more on the laid back side while people here lived the much simpler life compared to those on the west coast cities. Most Malaysians have never visited this Islamic run state while those who have are either doing business or probably one of the rare few. Well, this trip made me want to come back again as things here are still pretty much untouched.

Arriving here via AirAsia flight, I saw the Kota Bharu Airport which donned an Islamic style architecture which was something different when landing at normal airports. After all, most airports around Malaysia have the standard conventional airport-look so this was something different. Our mini bus was waiting and we were sent straight to our hotel which was the new Tune Hotels Kota Bharu. A quick refreshing and we were off to do some sight seeing around the city.

Siti Khadijah Market in Kota Bharu town

The first place that we visited was the Siti Khadijah Market, a local wet market which is probably the most famous market in Malaysia due to the uniqueness of the layout. Locally called Pasar Besar Siti Khadijah, this is the main and central market for the city. Here, local produce is sold by mostly ladies who sit up on a platform while the market roof is a sky light where natural sunlight illuminates the entire main area of the market. Upstairs, dry good are found along with the famous Kelantan Serunding, a type of dry beef floss best eaten with bread or even rice. 

Pickled Fruits or locally called Jeruk

Exploring the market in the late morning, many of the stalls were seen closing. The main reason was that these people start as early as four in the mornings. However, some took shifts to sell their goods as we spoke to one of the ladies selling 'jeruk' or pickled fruits. There must have been at least 20 types of local fruit pickled and sold in small to large jars. Apart from these, the Kelantanese are also well known for their sweet taste in desserts and also snacks. 

Our next stop was the famous PCB Beach. Taking about 20 minutes to drive there, our tour guide gave us the full breakdown on the name change. It was formally called Beach of Passionate Love (Pantai Cinta Berahi) but until the PAS Muslim Government took over the state 20 years ago, they renamed it to Pantai Cahaya Bulan which means Moonlight Beach thus still retaining the acronym PCB Beach. Overall, the beach stretches for a good few kilometers and is a favourite place for locals and tourist. Come weekends, the place would be filled while on weekdays, it looks pretty nice and quiet. 

Cikgu Nasi Ulam Kelantan

Heading back to Kota Bharu City, we were destined for lunch at one of Kelantan's famous rice stalls called Cikgu Nasi Ulam at the local Craft Village. Having sold his specialty rice for over four decades, it is now a local favourite from late mornings till late afternoons. Kelantanese dishes are served to you with rice and the stand drinks there are iced rose syrup in jugs. 

Our day ended with attending the official opening of the Tune Hotels Kota Bharu where His Majesty Tengku Mahkota of Kelantan (Crown Prince) officiated this ceremony. The who and who of the state was seen there while CEO Mark Lancaster brought His Majesty for a full hotel tour and ended with a buffet dinner served at the hotel's cafe called Hayaki which is 24 hours. Overall the hotel has 172 rooms with a wheelchair friendly room. A 24 hour convenient store is by the side of the building while the general location proves very central as they are just behind the KB Mall in town.

A Wau seen at the Kelantan Cultural Center

The following day, we had an early start as we headed out to see some of  Kelantan's well known attractions. Stopping by the Gelanggang Seni or the Kelantan Cultural Center, we were greeted by the largest Wau (Kelantanese Kite) in the world. A traditional Wayang Kulit (Puppet Shadow Play) was line up inside the main hall and a backstage pass was given to photographers to see them perform this from behind the scenes. I have to admit, this is one of the best experiences I have had in a very long time. Seeing the Puppet Master (Tok Dalang) perform the play was incredibly mind blowing.

Tok Dalang performing a Wayang Kulit Show

Right after the Wayang Kulit in Kelantan performance, we were treated to a traditional musical performance, a Silat Tari (Dancing Martial Art) and Gasing (Top Spinning) Show all at the Cultural Center here. The place is also located in the city area so getting here was easy. In the evening after dinner, a trip to Wakaf Che Yeh turned out to be something different as this is the largest open market selling all sorts of things. They operate till about midnight and you can find most local produce including items imported from Thailand.

Sleeping Buddha Temple in Kelantan

The following day, we went out of Kota Bharu to visit some of the unique temples found around Kelantan. Among them, there was the Sleeping Buddha and also the largest Sitting Buddha in Asia. They were about half an hour out of the city and something worth the visit. Apart from the main statues, there were stories told from the many other statues here. For the record, there are only about 35,000 Thai-Buddhist in Kelantan, but the amazing fact that there is about 26 Buddhist temples is outstanding. Many locals and Thais are seen visiting these temples throughout the year.

Batik Painting in Kelantan

On our last day, we made various stops at some of the famous Kelantanese food outlets. For lunch, we went to Yati Ayam Perchik which is a well known homegrown restaurant serving some of the best Ayam Perchik in Kelantan. Apart from the chicken served, they had an assortment of fish, beef, vegetables and a wide selection of local cakes. After lunch, we visited a Batik Factory which was towards the beach area where it was housed in a wooden makeshift factory. Inside, a local woman was finishing up some of the current designs for Batik. Next up, a visit to the local seaside village of Kampung Laut where we saw local fishermen come in with the days catch and then sold to the locals who patiently waited for boats to arrive back from the morning catch.

Nasi Kerabu at Hayaki Cafe, Tune Hotels Kota Bharu

Among the many different foods we tried were the famous Murtabak DiRaja, Cendol Pulut Tapai, Nasi Kerabu, Nasi Dagang and Nasi Tumbuk. One of the places worth a visit in the day or night is the White House Coffeeshop in town. This nostalgic coffee shop serves Kelantan's best coffee, eggs and toast and has been there for over 40 years. We also managed to get a glimpse of Kelantans 'night life' when one of our dinners was held at a local Chinese Restaurant. Local Chinese Kelantanese people were seen happily having their beers outside the restaurant while chatting away. We also had a taste of Kelantanese-Thai cuisine at Sri Chengmai Restaurant with Tourism Malaysia officials and a special guest of honor who was Haziq of AF4 (Local Celebrity)

Another lunch at a place called Restaurant Hover in town which served Nasi Sumarta was also a very interesting place to eat at. Food selections was very impressive and yet different. The highlight was seeing the person in charge count your bill. Words cannot explain this therefore if you visit this place, please go for the experience. A visit to one of the Serunding Makers of Kelantan was educational as we witnessed the full process of how the cooked dried meat is done.

A common Kelantanese Fishing Boat

Apart from the general places we visited throughout our 3 full days there, I have to to say that the local food was highly recommended during our visit to Kelantan. I must have put on at least another three kilograms on this trip but personally, I think they Kelantanese have some of the countries best local foods. You can also take a look at my Images Of Kelantan on my facebook album for more pictures. A kind thank you goes out to Tune Hotels Kota Bharu and Tourism Malaysia for organising this trip where I can easily say that is was a very interesting and educational trip for me, not forgetting the food we had five times a day. Also a special thanks to the Tourism Information Center for the incredible show at Gelanggang Seni (Cultural Center). You will also find that the hotel in the center of town is convenient and easy in terms of logistics for those who are planning on Visiting Kota Bharu in Kelatan.